Cool Public Domain Image: Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong

Louis Armstrong restored

Photo of Louis "Satchmo" Armstrong, Jazz Trumpeter

This is an image uploaded to Wikipedia from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cph.3c27236.

It is considered one of Wikipedia's "Featured Pictures," as one of the finest images shared on the site.

Public Domain Image: Gift to the Library of Congress

From the Library of Congress:

  • Title: [Louis Armstrong, head-and-shoulders portrait, facing left, playing trumpet]
  • Date Created/Published: 1953.
  • Medium: 1 photographic print : gelatin silver.
  • Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-127236 (b&w film copy neg.)
  • Rights Advisory: No copyright restriction known. Staff photographer reproduction rights transferred to Library of Congress through Instrument of Gift.
  • Call Number: NYWTS - BIOG--Armstrong, Louis "Satchmo"--Orchestra Leader [item] [P&P]
  • Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/pp.print


Quotes and Copyright: When Is It Okay to Use a Quotation?

Quotes are great!  I love them; bet you do too, Dear Reader.  Thing is: sometimes it’s fine to use a quote – but not always.  

Even if a quotation only involves a few words, it can still be protected by copyright law.  (Sometimes by trademark law, as well.)  And if it is legally protected, then the author owns them.  The quote is his or her property.  Use it, and you are stealing that property from a federal perspective.

So, when is it okay to use a quotation?  Here are a few tips and things to consider:

Public Domain Is Your Best Resource

Any written words that have past their copyright expiration date are considered to be in the “public domain.”  The copyright has ended by the terms of the federal copyright laws.  The author no longer has property rights to the quotation.

The key here is to make sure that the quote is, indeed, free from copyright.  How to do this?

Well, you can confirm via the age of the quotation.  Anyone who has been dead for at least 100 years, you are pretty darn safe to use their stuff.  People like William Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll, or Plato, for instance.

But this isn’t always true.  Take versions of the Holy Bible.  Not every translation is free to use and in the public domain.  The King James Version:  yes.  The NIV: nope. 

Another example: Agatha Christie published her first novel in 1920 (The Mysterious Affair at Styles), and the Estate of Agatha Christie is vigilant about protecting her legacy – including quotes from her books and plays and letters.  Plus, her work is protected by the copyright laws of the United Kingdom as well as the United States.  

Some Quotes Are Not Copyrighted

Not every quotation gets copyright protection under federal law.  Slogans for example aren’t copyright protected.  Some short phrases, ditto. 

For more on these exceptions to the rule, read:  Copyright Protection for Short Phrases – Rich Stim,” by Mary Minow on the Stanford University Copyright and Fair Use blog. 

Fair Use of a Copyrighted Quotation

Fair use is an exception to the protection of copyright and allows use of the copyrighted words.  Under the fair use doctrine, you can use a small excerpt from a published work without the author’s permission – if you are using it for certain purposes.

These include a review of the overall work (book, novel, play, etc.); a parody of the work; or for an educational purpose. 

Fair use is tricky.  Each case must be determined on its own circumstances.  Be careful here. 

It Doesn’t Matter if the Quotation Has Been Published or Not

Copyright law does not apply only to works that have been published and shared with others.  Unpublished work is also protected by federal copyright laws.  

What If You Want to Use a Quote that is Copyright-Protected?

To use a copyrighted quote, just ask.  Maybe you will be pleasantly surprised and the owner will be touched, even complimented, that you appreciate their work.  

Will they ask for money?  Not always, but sometimes.  That’s to be negotiated between you and the author.  You might pay a nominal sum, or you might be asked to fork a pretty hefty chunk of case.  All depends.  (This is called a “licensing fee.”) 

To quote your mother (and mothers everywhere), it never hurts to ask.


Why NaNoWriMo is Good for You

In a matter of hours, National Novel Writing Month 2017 begins.  Feel the pressure yet? The excitement?  The judgment and criticism?

After all, why bother?  

This is the holiday season.  The clock strikes midnight on Halloween and the NaNoWriMo ticker starts ticking.  In 23 days, it will be Thanksgiving. 

And it's year-end, business-wise.  There are deadlines to meet.  Procrastinating clients will call in a frantic need for something yesterday. Happens every year.

So, is it nuts to add the goal of writing 1700 words each day for 30 days into the mix?  Am I crazy for doing this?

Well, sure, maybe. 

What I Get Out of NaNoWriMo

Here's the thing.  I don't dedicate my Novembers to NaNoWriMo because I'm planning on writing the Great American Novel in one month's time. 

I'm doing it for several other reasons, ones that I think help me and may help you, too, Dear Reader should you decide to join in the fun.  Things like:

  • It helps my self-discipline.  I keep to a schedule during the holiday season. 
  • It spurs my imagination.  Each morning, there is a fun and safe invitation to dream and fantasize all sorts of things.  Dogs that can talk; pink skies; mysterious passageways ....  And I can put them into plots, not just leave them in my daydreams.
  • It helps me see how much and how fast I can write.  As the chapters build, there is a sense of accomplishment.  Of doing something just for me.  Just. For. Me.
  • It helps me build a story without worrying about vocabulary, dialogue, setting.  I fly though the day's word count getting the story down for that day.  It's freeing.  I'm a storyteller and I'm not sure what's going to happen the next day. 
  • Finally, it keeps the Judgmental Bear away.  Oh, how I love to criticize myself!  Here, I know that I'm writing a bad novel.  It's supposed to be bad.  To make sure I keep this in mind, I do things like start each year's epic with the same sentence:  "On a dark and stormy night ...."
  • It's creative.  I draw maps of the village, I cut out photos of watches or cars or recipes or cats that fit with my storyline.  I collect them with disc-binding into this fun, zany scrapbook slash art journal.  They go alongside my words, which I hand-wrote last year and plan on doing again this year.  This disc-bound book gets big.  It's magical.  I add washi tape and vintage postcards and lace.  Done right, it needs a big fat ribbon to hold itself together.  I love this.
  • Bottom line, it's fun.  NaNoWriMo is fun.  And I need all the fun I can get these days, don't you?

For more, check out:

"Fast-Draft Writing for NaNoWriMo and Every Other Month," posted on September 19, 2017 by Writing Coach;
and all the NaNoWriMo online Pep Talks by writers like Dean Koontz, John Green, Sue Grafton, Tom Robbins, Meg Cabot and many more .